Sunday, April 8, 2012

Iran loses Turkey - and everything else

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey...Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey at Çanakkale Türkçe: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Başbakanı (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After a prolonged absence from posting, I'm back.  I have frankly been immersed in legislative initiatives in Tajikistan and meetings in Kyiv and Istanbul for a major program in the Black Sea basin. 

Nevertheless, the dry spell should be over for the time being. 

The first item on the agenda is a quick post on the fluid dynamics in the Middle East brought on by the Syrian civil war and attrocities which have been committed by the al Assad regime.

The systematic murder of women, children and other civilians in order to crush the revolt represented largely by the Free Syrian Army, has been unresolved.  Kofi Annan says he is shocked by the massive bloodshed committed by Syrian regular army forces in the period leading up to the agreed upon cease fire and withdrawal of army units from cities and towns in Syria.  Why he is shocked is beyond comprehension.  There is nothing in the Baath regime's history that would have indicated other than brutal repression when their control was threatened.  Russia  claims to support the Annan mission - except that it is deliberately facilitating the murders as is China.

Now, the situation is changing because the civil war has become decidedly a geopolitical struggle between Iran and its not-so-friendly neighbors and the West.  The casualties are the civilians.  Nevertheless, Iran seems to have overplayed its hand and is now openly in a war of words with the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia extending to threats of punishment.  They have also slapped away the strongest power in the region, Turkey, by first calling Turkey and enemy of the Syrian people for hosting the Friends of Syria conference on April 1 and then questioning the location of new nuclear talks, advocating a change of venue from Istanbul to Damascus or Baghdad. 

The optics of a successful rising Iran have now changed. Ankara bent over backwards to mediate on the nuclear issue and a week ago Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with Ayatollah Khamanei to promote negations and avoid a military strike (however unlikely).  The meeting ended with a statement when Ayatollah Khameni said that  “building weapons of mass destruction amounts to a sin in our religion.”  Case closed. Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Davutoğlu went home.

Then Iran rejected Istanbul as venue and the situation began to unravel alarmingly. Clearly, Iran has learned nothing from following the personality of Erdoğan.  He has a tendency to take things personally. Very personally and very publicly.  Beware an Erdoğan scorned.  Now he accused Iran of evasion and self-isolation. Then he turned to the Syria problem and Iran's ally.

Iran has managed to piss-off the most powerful, and formerly neutral country in the Middle East. It has crossed the line and lost Turkey (an overwhelmingly Sunni nation with elections approaching). Tehran’s mendacity is evident not only its anti-Turkish ranting on Syria, where it itself is assisting in the slaughter, but also its astonishing disrespect to Turkey's efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis.

Now, Erdoğan  says the country will wait "patiently" to see if Syria abides by a cease-fire deadline on Tuesday, but may take certain "steps" if the violence does not stop after that. Nearly 700 Syrian escaped to Turkey last Friday.  During a 36 hour period last eek about 2,800 crossed the to escape a helicopter-backed assault by Syrian troops.  No one can expect Turkey to continue to accept more refugees.  It already host 24,000.

What "certain steps" means is unknown - but the Turkish army can control the border from the Syrian side without too much worry about Syrian army units. Assad is on his way out.  Iran is going to lose this gambit and at the same time has lost the help of important players in the region, furthering its isolation.  Rarely has any country misplayed its hand in such a way.
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